iDolphin

Dolphin communicating via an iPadNot content with just conquering the human market with their wildly popular iPad, Steve Jobs & co. are apparently now wooing other mammals as well. You guessed it—even dolphins love Apple gadgets!

Research scientist Jack Kassewitz of SpeakDolphin (who was recently also featured in a post here on 2Dolphins about CymaGlyphs) has introduced the Apple iPad to a young bottlenose dolphin named Merlin in early steps towards building a system of communication. Merlin, who lives at Dolphin Discovery in Puerta Aventura, Mexico, was able to successfully recognize and touch pictures on the screen with his rostrum (nose) to match objects he was shown. Yup, the iPad’s touch-based interface is so intuitive that even nonhuman species can use it!

Merlin plays a simple game where he’s shown an object, such as a ball or a rubber duck then has to point to an image matching that object on the iPad’s screen. (Kassewitz notes that dolphins respond especially well to the color yellow)

So, not only is the iPad “dolphin safe,” it could also play a key role in the advancement of a complete language interface between humans and dolphins. Genius, Steve Jobs, genius.

New Year, New Blog

The stinkers at Blogger have sunsetted their publish-via-FTP feature, so we were forced to finally jump ship and get onboard with WordPress. I’ve wanted to make this move for quite some time now, but had been a bit too intimidated by the process, fearing that we could lose all of our old Blogger posts that’ve accumulated since we started back in March ’04.

So, 2010—a.k.a. the year of NEW—continues to steamroll onward!

A Round Dinnertime

Dede spotted this awesome video of a unique dolphin hunting technique that was recently showcased in the BBC "Life" series.

Aerial photography reveals how some ingenious bottlenose dolphins off of the Florida coast use their powerful tail flukes to create a ring of mud to trap fish in shallow waters. The panicked fish jump out of the water away from the ring, right into the waiting mouths of the other dolphins in the hunting pod.   Interestingly, only one female in the pod creates these rings—always counter-clockwise— and she does it over & over until the whole pod is fed.

 
Kinda reminds me of another article about dolphins in southern Brazil hunting fish cooperatively with humans. Now if we could just get people to work together as well as the dolphins do, how great would that be?

Thrifty Yet Nifty, Even After Fifty!

Green Eggs and HamIn yesterday’s New Year’s post I noted that 2010 is destined to be an eventful year, loaded with all sorts of special occasions.   One such milestone is the 50th anniversary of one our favorite books—”Green Eggs and Ham.”

After writing “The Cat in the Hat” in 1955 using only 223 words, Theodor (“Ted”) Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, bet his publisher Bennett Cerf $50 that he could write a book using only 50 words.   Seuss collected on the wager in 1960 with the publication of “Green Eggs and Ham” which did indeed use only 50 distinct words — of which, only one (“anywhere”) has more than a single syllable.   This simplistic yet infectious book has become the 4th best-selling children’s hardcover book of all time.

Liam has a number of Dr. Seuss books, but this one is definitely our favorite so far.   I especially enjoy acting out the exasperation felt by the story’s unnamed, flustered antagonist who is pestered relentlessly by the persistent Sam I Am!

Trivia: To memorialize Dr. Seuss upon his death in 1991, Reverend Jesse Jackson recited “Green Eggs and Ham” during a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update segment.

A New Decade Begins

Snoopy Happy New Year graphic

I expect 2010 will be a remarkable time of significant changes and happenings!   It’s the beginning of a hopeful new decade and this’ll undoubtedly be a year of many special milestones.   Dede & I wish you all a healthy & happy new year!
 

Online Optics

eyeglasses

Dede & I had both been wanting to get some new eyeglasses for a few months now—we were both overdue for new ‘scripts and the rough & tumble nature of being a toddler’s parents had taken its toll on our glasses. (A nasty heel swipe to the nose in October was the last straw, so I bent my mangled glasses back into some facsimile of proper shape and made an appointment with my optometrist.)

Anyway, like us, many of you probably have often winced at the sky-high prices at the local EyeMasters, LensCrafters or other such "brick & mortar" eyeglass shops. But you pry open your wallet, pony up the big bucks, and get what you need—at a very premium price. And since Dede & I both started doing the bifocal bugaloo a couple of years ago, our glasses are all the more pricey. But this time was different…

When we went looking for glasses to fit Liam last year, we couldn’t find a single store locally that carried a frame small enough to fit a 2 year old. One shop did offer one pair of glasses that came close, but those were $130 just for the frame and didn’t feature springy hinges, flexy temples, or anything that would inspire us to believe that they’d hold up to a toddler’s torture. But then another adoptive couple told us about Zenni Optical and the results couldn’t have been better!

So, when it came time for us to get some new specs, we decided to boldly venture into the world of online eyeglasses too!   I picked out a snazzy pair of light, rimless, frames with Transitions-style progressive (no-line) bifocal lenses, treated with anti-glare pixie-dust—all for under $100 shipped! Dede opted for a half-rimless pair with progressive lenses and some funky plastic-framed sunglasses with a cool hibiscus design on the temples for less than $100 shipped! That’s a fraction of what a single pair of similar glasses would cost locally!

Buying glasses sight unseen (rimshot) does seem like a daunting proposition, but once you break it down, it’s not too tough. You just need the dimensions from glasses you own or a pair you like at a store. For example, my previous frames were 53mm wide by 27mm tall, had a bridge width of 17mm, and temple length of 140mm. So using those measurements as a guide when shopping online for my new glasses, I looked for a pair that closely matched so they’ fit well and be proportionate for my face.

So yeah, buying glasses online is a little intimidating at first but the incredibly low prices make it easy to venture into the unknown!

And it also helps that there’s a large and rapidly-growing subculture of glasses-wearers who use online optical shops. Ira Mitchell’s excellent GlassyEyes.com website has a wealth of useful info specific to this.   The GlassyEyes forum is a hotbed of discussions where friendly & knowledgeable folks will help you ease into this new frontier with lots of anecdotal info & suggestions. For example, having never gone “rimless” before, I was nervous about the thickness of the lens and one of the helpful guys posted a link to a handy Lens Thickness Calculator tool that put my mind at ease.

Update:   In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve gotta admit that those snazzy rimless frames sounded better than they actually worked out to be.   The temples were an Oakley-style straight-legged affair so they slid off nearly every time I bent over.   I don’t fault Zenni for this — I just chose a frame style that was too different and loosely-fitting than what I’m used to.   They’re still well worth having as a backup though.

And when we had Liam’s eyes checked a few weeks ago, his vision had changed enough that he needed new lenses. But Zenni no longer carries the frame we bought for him last year or any other comparable childrens’ models. So, based on the excellent reviews on GlassyEyes, we tried a very similar pair from Coastal Contacts.   Thanks to a fantastic half-off seasonal promotion, I bought new glasses for both Liam and myself for slightly under $50, they arrived a mere 8 days after I placed the order, and they’re great!

So, if you’re ready for some new glasses and are tired of getting robbed blind (rimshot) by the high-priced local retailers, I highly recommend trying one of the online stores. At $35-50 for a pair of glasses, you can afford to experiment a little.

Snoopy vs. Red Baron Redux

Snoopy WWI Flying Ace postage stampIf you know anything at all about me, you know that I love Snoopy.   So you can imagine how jazzed I was to learn about the eye-popping upcoming videogame Snoopy WWI Flying Ace. *

Autumn always rekindles fond memories of the great old Peanuts animated holiday "specials" we always watched as kids.   Snoopy’s heroic World War I fighter waged aerial battle and crossed imaginary wartime France as a downed pilot in Charles Shulz’s "It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" in October 1966.

Smart Bomb Interactive’s new game, scheduled for release in the 1st quarter of 2010 for all major consoles, once again pits Snoopy against Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron and the rest of those dastardly wartime Germans.   From the sneak preview trailer, it looks like they’ve certainly met their match!

If you can’t get enough of the Flying Ace, there’s even a Snoopy Flying Ace USB hub for your desktop.   Just plug the hub into your PC’s USB port and watch Snoopy & his faithful Sopwith Camel come alive!

And though you’ve probably seen it countless times, just how well do you know "It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?"

* Okay, never mind that we don’t even own a game console — I can still get excited about a game, right?   Maybe this will push us over the edge?
 

iTunes Hero

Wurlitzer jukebox image on an iPhoneThinking back on the song “Juke Box Hero,” I started wondering if that has any context with today’s music fans. I mean really, a jukebox? In this age of white earbuds, how many Gen Y or Zers have ever even touched a jukebox?

I fondly recall plunking coins into a flashy old Wurlitzer, watching the machine magically come to life, clicking and whirring as the Rube Goldberg-esqe mechanism selected then whisked the 45 RPM records off the rack and plopped them gingerly down on the turntable, and finally hearing the slight hiss & crackle as the diamond needle met the black vinyl. Man, that was something special!

(And who didn’t envy Fonzie’s special gift for knocking a temperamental jukebox back into action with a quick, cool snap of the wrist?)

What got me thinking about this is a new album by Foreigner called Can’t Slow Down that was released just a few weeks ago. It’s another Wal-Mart exclusive 3-disc set like last year’s Journey “Revelations.” Like the Journey release, this one features one disc of new material, a disc of 10 refreshed versions of some of the band’s classics (including “Juke Box Hero”), and a live concert DVD.

But the parallels don’t end there. Foreigner’s new lead singer Kelly Hansen is to that band’s original frontman Lou Gramm what Journey’s new Arnel Pineda is to Steve Perry. Really. He’s that close. No he’s not exactly Lou any more than Arnel is a true Xerox of Steve, but the vocal style & flavor is so strikingly similar (especially on the studio recordings) that it’ll easily pass as the original singer’s sound for casual listeners. Don’t believe me? Compare the following classic hits as performed then vs. now:

Hot Blooded – 1993
Hot Blooded – 2009
Urgent – 1981
Urgent – 2009

Yeah, it is a little freaky for a guy who looks like he could be Steven Tyler’s cousin to sound like Lou Gramm. And continuing the comparisons to Journey, doesn’t rhythm guitarist & sax player Tom Gimbel (who coincidentally, used to tour with Steven Tyler’s Aerosmith!) look an awful lot like Neal Schon?

Anyway, the new material is good! It may not be quite as punchy & raw as the late 70s / early 80s stuff when Foreigner first landed on the radio (and in jukeboxes!), but the new songs are certainly on-par with much of the group’s mid to late 80s stuff. Several of these could easily be hits if the label works them right. If you were a fan of Mick Jones & the boys back then, you’re going to air-drumming & whistling along with most of the songs on this new album. Of course, it might’ve made more sense for them to remake "Juke Box Hero" as "iTunes Hero" — except that you can’t get the new album on iTunes…

If you give the new Foreigner a listen, post a comment!

By the way, bonus points go out to anyone who saw Foreigner’s original tour in ’85 that actually featured a giant inflatable jukebox. Were you there?

Dolphin-Safe Tuna – Anything But Safe

"You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t."

There never ceases to be good examples of just how true Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote is.

Via Jason Kottke’s blog, I discovered marine biology grad student Dave Shiffman’s interesting debate The Ecological Disaster That Is Dolphin-Safe Tuna that sheds some unique perspectives on the concept of "dolphin-safe" tuna, its effects on sustainable commercial tuna fishing, and the impacts of bycatch.

Dolphin-Safe logoThe gist of the article is that we’ve blindly allowed activists to recklessly prioritize the well-being of one group of aquatic animals at the expense of many others.   This is largely because it’s easier for our collective conscience to identify with smart, friendly dolphins than other species that aren’t as easily empathized with because they seem less cute or intelligent.   As a result, government-mandated dolphin-safe fishing practices have unintentionally had devastating effects for a much broader range of oceanic creatures.

For every 1 dolphin saved, 382 Mahi-Mahi, 188 Wahoo, 82 Yellowtail & other large fish, 27 sharks, nearly 1,200 smaller fish, and a number of sea turtles and various other sea-life.

(To make matters worse, dolphin-safe fishing methods result in far more young tuna being caught rather than the more mature tuna who have already been reproducing, thereby making food supplies even more scarce for the very dolphins we’re striving to save.)

So the thorny ethical dilemma is whether it’s worth saving dolphins at the expense of sea turtles, sharks, and many other endangered fish species.   Should we protect dolphins — who we have reason to believe are sentient mammals with intelligence that rivals our own — even if it means fishing some other sea-life right into extinction?
 

Lost Library

stack of old booksA recent blog about beautiful libraries triggered some old memories.   As a kid, I loved going to the public library — and still do.   Our library wasn’t elaborate or grandiose, yet it seemed immense.   People spoke in hushed church-like tones.   There was that nameless scent.   The obscure Dewey Decimal System held untold secrets just waiting to be decoded.   The shelves just dripped with potential.   Yes, going to the library was a rich & wondrous experience!

But it’s an experience I fear that my son may never know…

Booked-filled libraries are becoming a thing of the past. But while virtual libraries of e-books are certainly more accessible, I don’t think they’re as appreciable.   There’s not the same sense of vastness nor do they inspire the same reverence or wonderment.   Digital books seem less tangible and substantial.   You can electronically duplicate the content, but not the context or sensual aspect, the smell, feel, heft & texture, of actual books.

I’ll admit that even in spite of my love for real, physical books, I’m not immune to the hype & allure of e-book readers.   The idea that in a matter of seconds, you can download a new book rather than ordering it and waiting days or weeks for it to arrive make devices like Amazon.com’s Kindle really attractive.   But several factors — not the least of which is the price — have held me back.   I’ve seen a Sony e-book reader and the screen was surprisingly easy on the eyes, but deep down I’m still suspicious that the e-book reader experience just wouldn’t be as satisfying or comfortable as reading a book.

But sadly, the trend of replacing actual books with digital versions is only accelerating.   In fact, Cushing Academy near Boston is one of the first schools in the U.S. to abandon traditional books in favor of virtual ones.   In lieu of a library, the academy is instead creating a media center, spending nearly $500,000 equip it with with flat-screen TVs, e-book readers, and a coffee shop.

Is it just me and this is just nostalgia rearing its head once again?   Do you think there’s anything lost in the transition from physical to digital books?   Have you considered making the move to e-books?   Are libraries all but lost as we plunge ever deeper into the cyberworld?